The Boise State football team undoubtedly will have a few breakout defensive stars this season as the Broncos replace nine of their top 10 tacklers.
Senior middle linebacker Tommy Smith looks like one of them.
Smith impressed teammates with his commitment and leadership during summer workouts and for the first time in his career is in position to make a major impact.
Smith grabbed an interception Monday, the third day of the Broncos fall camp.
He played behind a really good player in Byron Hout, whos gone, linebackers coach Bob Gregory said. But its his turn now and hes certainly answered the call so far.
Smith (6-foot-1, 236 pounds) played part time last season with Hout as the clear starter. Hout, then a senior, led the team with 69 tackles; Smith finished with 18.
Coaches have tried to find roles for Smith on the defense throughout his career. He even played fullback at times last year.
He kind of had to play in the shadow a little bit, sophomore nickel Corey Bell said. I think hes going to have an opportunity to have a great year.
Smith set the tone for his senior year in the summer, when he emerged as one of the leaders of the revamped defense.
Youve got to step into the role youre the middle linebacker on the defense, its a vocal role and people are looking at you, Smith said. Youve got to be that guy to get the whole defense riled up.
Its a role that suits Smith, who can provide a unique perspective to young players. He came to Boise State from Atlanta the culture shock was extreme and has endured injuries, position changes and fluctuating playing time in his first four years here.
He included Bell in his individual workouts over the summer and served as something of a mentor for the Capital High grad.
Tommy is just a natural leader, Gregory said. The kids gravitate toward him and his personality. Hes been here a while and is just a good football player. Hes naturally emerging as one of our leaders.
To also emerge as one of those breakout stars, Smith must hold off a challenge from sophomore Blake Renaud and wreak havoc in the middle of the field.
All my career, Ive been a backup, which is no big deal, playing my role, he said. When its my time, Ive got to take advantage of it.
That has been Smiths approach to his whole Boise State experience. He rooms with players from California, Texas and Holland and has learned to enjoy slower-paced Boise. Idahos largest city at first seemed like the country to him.
Thats been a great experience for me, Smith said, getting to do things most of my friends and family havent done.
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat